Sebastiano Meloni, Paul Dunmall, Sebastiano Dessanay, Mark Sanders Pictures of a Quartet Slam CD539***
Paul Dunmall (ts, ss), Sebastiano Meloni (p), Sebastiano Dessanay (b), Mark Sanders (d). Rec. 15th-19th July 2011.
This is a remarkably successful and coherent free jazz/free improvisation set. Dunmall and Sanders will be familiar names to Jazzwise readers, the Italian bassist Sebastiano Dessanay and pianist Sebastiano Meloni less so. Although entirely improvised, the music seems to have been chosen later to reflect what feels like a quite unique partnership. Rather than a portrait of one or two aspects of this quartet in performance, the listener gets to hear a much broader presentation of the range of possibilities it has to offer. As such, the group is able to move from wild, free-ranging Tayloresque improvisations (“Four Phases” and “Movement No.3”) to reflective, slow-moving, introspective pieces (Nocturne” and “Second Landscape”) without ever losing a sense of itself as a collective entity. At the heart of this record is the series of duets built around pianist Meloni, “Sketches for Two”. The overriding impression here is of a truly delicate sense of engagement and respect. Anyone wishing to begin to understand free jazz and its close to distant cousin would do very well to start here.
Sam Rivers, Dave Holland, Barry Altschul Reunion: Live in New York Pi Recordings PI45****
Sam Rivers (ts, ss, f, p), Dave Holland (b), Barry Altschul (d). Rec. 25.5.2007.
When I think of Sam Rivers – and I do – I don’t think of his great Blue Note records but of this trio. It featured on Dave Holland’s magnificent Conference of the Birds Holland (with the addition of Anthony Braxton), as well recording The Quest, one of the 70s’ finest albums. This double CD was recorded 4½ years before Rivers’ death and 19 after the trio ceased operations. In a way, time hangs suspended here. It could be now or you could be there at Studio Rivbea sometime between 1972-78. The sheer breadth of music, the undiluted quality of the playing, the almost spooky degree of empathy between the musicians and the sense of warmth, joy and controlled power that this trio could convey – nothing has been lost. Dave Holland’s two bass solos on CD1 suggests that if he had sold his soul to the devil, he had extracted bloody good terms from Old Nick. Barry Altschul is never less than perfect, a brilliant foil who anticipates, frames and enhances what his colleagues are doing. As for Rivers, he is righteous on tenor, insidious on soprano, exquisite on flute and remarkably lyrical on piano. An amazing valediction from a genuinely classic jazz trio.
British Jazz from Dutton-Vocalion
John Dankworth What The Dickens! and Off Duty! Dutton-Vocalion CDSML8491
Here, we have two very different prospects. Off Duty! is really Dankworth-lite, whilst What The Dickens! is the real thing, one of four fine suites the orchestra recorded in the sixties – I’m counting wife Cleo Laine’s Shakespeare and All That Jazz here as well. Dankworth’s work often invites admiration in critics first and only pleasure and deeper satisfactions later. Perhaps to some, he was a victim of his own success. His facility in creating memorable, admittedly sometimes light-weight tunes and ability to please a wider audience than many of his peers kind of makes him a suspect in some quarters. He might not have been a genius of the art of jazz but he was certainly a craftsman of the first rank.
The other two albums Dankworth made in this period – Zodiac Variation and $1,000,000 Collection – came out last year also on Dutton-Vocalion (2CDSML8480). The addition of What The Dickens! now gives the lie to those who would limit his achievements as a composer, bandleader and alto player.
That Dankworth had ambition goes without saying. He wanted to be both popular and respected critically. That’s a hard and difficult path to negotiate. His work always had a tendency towards theatricality – probably one of the reasons he was so successful as a composer for film and television. His music was often relaxed and gentle on the ear but the listener should never presume that meant it wasn’t beautifully framed and a constant challenge for his musicians. It’s actually bloody hard making it sound this easy and that’s what Dankworth does he with remarkable skill.
The duet between Ronnie Ross and Bobby Wellins on “Weller Never Did” and the leader’s own alto solo on “Little Nell” are perfect cases in point. On the first, Wellins provides a lovely counterpoint to Ross’ baritone before the two switch places and Ross does the honours for Wellins. It’s witty, light-hearted and utterly charming. A moment later, Dankworth’s alto takes the stage for a warm, romantic, if wry take on Dickens’ unfortunate heroine that finds a sound halfway between Parker and Hodges. Humour was never far away in whatever Dankworth did and it’s there in Tubby Hayes’ solo on “Demndest Little Fascinator”, which plays with a Viennese waltz complete with harp and which brings out a typically rich and throaty performance from Hayes. Often, and sometimes confusingly, Dankworth’s musical pictures could be at odds with their subject. “Dotheboys Hall” in Nicholas Nickleby was a grim, forbidding place of education but here the composer uses five of his tenorists to create an atmosphere of rebellion that would have given its headmaster Wackford Squeers instant cardiac arrest. And who would dare refuse Oliver Twist seconds (“Please Sir, I Want To Some More”) when asked so poignantly by Leon Calvert’s trumpet?
Such quirky perceptions pervade Dankworth’s oeuvre and it was part of his talent that he was willing to give them their head on so many occasions. Perhaps this all sounds a little too clever, too calculated. Maybe so but it never appears that way in the execution. On “Dodson and Fogg”, the altoist duets with Hayes playing the unctuous clerk to the tenor player’s verbose, untrustworthy solicitor. It matters not that whether you’ve read the Pickwick Papers or seen Noel Langley’s lovely film depiction from 1952, though knowing the source just a little bit does add something and allows the listener to hear Dankworth for the fine musical caricaturist that he was. This is gorgeously, warm-hearted optimistic jazz, which coming from a furrow-browed, purveyor of doom like this reviewer must say something.
Off Duty! is not in the same league but, to be fair, it wasn’t intended to be. Here, Dankworth harks back to an earlier era of jazz, innocent and intended for dancing. The tunes are in the main standards arranged here by Dankworth, David Lindup and pianist Laurie Holloway, with four originals (one from Holloway, three from Dankworth. The tunes that come off best are the leader’s own slinky title track and the two Ellington pieces “Sophisticated Lady” and “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore”. But this has the feel more of easy listening than jazz. Shame that Dutton-Vocalion didn’t pair What The Dickens! with Laine’s Shakespeare and All That Jazz. Never mind, those of you with taste and discernment will get your money’s worth from What The Dickens! alone.
Tracks: What The Dickens! Prologue/Weller Never Did/Little Nell/The Infant Phenomenon/Demdest Little Fascinator/Dotheboys Hall/Ghosts/David And The Bloaters/Please Sir, I Want Some More/The Artful Dodger/Waiting For Something To Turn Up/Dodson And Fogg/The Pickwick Club/Sergeant Buzfuz/Finale.
Personnel: Gus Galbraith, Leon Calvert, Kenny Wheeler, Dickie Hawdon (tp), Tony Russell, Eddie Harvey (tb), Ron Snyder or Alf Reece (tba), Johnny Dankworth, Roy East (as, cl), Vic Ash (cl, ts), Art Ellefson (ts, bcl), Alan Branscombe (p, vib, xyl), Kenny Napper or Spike Heatley (b), Johnny Butts (d). Special guests: Jimmy Deuchar (tp), Tony Coe, Tubby Hayes, Peter King, Ronnie Scott, Bobby Wellins, Dick Morrissey (ts), Ronnie Ross (bs), Ronnie Stephenson (d), Roy Webster (perc). Rec. July 29th and 31st, August 7th, and October 4th, 1963.
Off Duty! Ja-Da; Off Duty!; Little Brown Jig; Sophisticated Lady; African Waltz; Bernie’s Tune; Skyliner; Basin Street Blues; To Emma; Don’t Get Around Much Anymore; Song of India; Holloway House. Rec. May 1969.
Harold McNair Harold McNair/Flute & Nut Dutton-Vocalion CDSML8494
The story of Jamaican saxophonist/flautist Harold McNair is one of the great ‘what-might’ve-beens’ of British jazz. By all accounts, a charming, well-mannered guy with a beautiful sound on tenor, alto and, in particular, on flute. As with all very talented musicians, the music just flowed through him. He did a lot of session work, toured with Donovan – that’s him on the troubadour’s In Concert album from 1968 – and played in Ginger Baker’s Airforce and C.C.S. As far as his own recordings go, these were few and far between. Two were released only in the Caribbean. Another, Affectionate Fink, was recorded for ‘fellow’ Jamaican Chris Blackwell’s Island label in 1965 and featured Alan Branscombe on piano and Ornette Coleman’s then bass and drums of David Izenzon and Charles Moffatt. That remains to be issued on CD, whilst the excellent Off Centre with the John Cameron Quartet, which appeared on Dutton-Vocalion in 2005 is now sadly deleted. His last record, The Fence came out in 1970 and is thankfully available on CD from Hux Records. This makes this reissue by the ever-reliable Dutton-Vocalion and Flute & Nut all the more valuable.
Musicians are no different from the rest of us in some respects. I guess we all think we have more time. Sadly, for McNair he didn’t – he died aged 39 of lung cancer in 1971. Listening to these sides – Harold McNair, in particular – is made all the more sad by the sheer joy and vitality of expression that McNair could bring even to the most unpromising material.
McNair’s association was a long and mostly productive one. Flute & Nut is too easily dismissed as a collection of mood pieces. It’s better than that, though some may well find Cameron’s orchestral arrangements somewhat showy and ostentatious. For myself, they are no more so – less so perhaps – than say those that Quincy Jones wrote to feature Roland Kirk. But the point here is McNair’s flute and nothing can detract from that. With lesser talents the strings on “You Are Too Beautiful” would leave one thinking of Mills & Boon. McNair cuts through all that and in the end that’s all you can hear, all that matters. His playing on the uptempo treatment of “The Night Has A Thousand Eyes” is a simply bravura performance. “My Romance” is the only non-flute track here and features McNair on alto, its slightly sour-lemon tone and freshness making for a lovely moment of jazz plus strings. The closer, Cameron’s “Burnt Amber”, ends the record nicely with what is a fine, swinging piece of big band jazz. Not by any stroke McNair’s best album but his playing belies any shortcomings of the setting time and again.
There are no such reservations about Harold McNair. This is a gorgeous record. From the opener, “Mento”, to the closing track, “The Cottage” these guys are having a ball. The rhythm section contains three stalwarts of British jazz of the period, musicians who graced many bands and sessions with their talents – Le Sage is always great value. But you listen to this record for McNair. Check how on the light-hearted Indecision with its gospel chords McNair’s flute combines with Le Sage’s pianos and then leaps off into the heavens. Donovan’s “Lord of the Reedy River” is even better – Ronnie Scott used much the same arrangement on his Live at Ronnie Scott’s LP from 1969 with Kenny Wheeler taking the lead. Hear how elegantly McNair exploits the tune’s simple melody. Each one of these nine tracks contains its own pleasures – the Kirk-like waltz of “The Hipster”, the unbridled swing of “The Cottage”, the warm, muscular sound of McNair’s tenor on “Darn That Dream”, even the almost witty flute on Fain and Webster’s insubstantial show-tune “Secret Love”. I said at the beginning that McNair was a charming, well-mannered cat – buy this and prepare to be charmed.
Harold McNair: Mento; Indecision; Lord Of The Reedy River; The Hipster; Mini Blues; Secret Love; Darn That Dream; On A Clear Day You Can See Forever; The Cottage.
Personnel: Harold McNair (ts, f), Bill Le Sage (p), Spike Heatley (b), Tony Carr (d). Rec. July 1968.
Flute & Nut: The Umbrella Man; The Night Has a Thousand Eyes; You Are Too Beautiful; Barnes Bridge; Nomadic Joe; Herb Green; My Romance; Burnt Amber.
Personnel: Harold McNair (f, ts), John Cameron (arr), unknown orchestra. Rec. 1969.
Joe Harriott Quintet Movement/High Spirits Dutton-Vocalion 2CDSML 8486
The acquisition, ownership and handling of a back catalogue of classic British jazz by first Polygram and then Universal is a story of meanness and incompetence. This has meant that key recordings by the likes of Joe Harriott, Mike Westbrook, John Surman, Stan Tracey, the Don-Rendell-Ian Carr Quintet and quite a few others have either never been issued on CD or been patchily available at best. Some of this material is now entering or about to enter the public domain. On the one hand, this means that fans may at last actually get to hear it. On the other, it also means that these sides are likely to appear in poorly presented packages, often using vinyl copies rather than original masters in the reissue.
Two British companies stand out from the rest in all respects – Beat Goes On and Dutton-Vocalion. Over the last few years, both labels have ensured the availability of records that tell the rich and varied story of British jazz in the 1960s. Ideally, one would like to see expensive, Mosaic-like box sets of Westbrook’s Deram albums or Joe Harriott’s Lansdowne releases complete with original sleevenotes and artwork, full and annotated recording details and more. The market just wouldn’t stand it, of course. In a way, that makes Dutton-Vocalion and BGO all the more important.
Harriott’s career is beautifully recalled in Alan Robertson’s biography Fire In His Soul (Northway 2012), reviewed elsewhere on All About Jazz. The Jamaican alto saxophonist recorded and released ten LPs for Denis Preston’s Lansdowne Series between 1960-69. Of these, three saw him experiment with an abstract approach to jazz that paralleled but was quite different from Ornette Coleman’s work in the USA. Free Form (1960) was reissued last year as part of the Joe Harriott Story (Properbox 4CD set). Abstract (1961), his best album, came out on Universal in 1999 but has long since been deleted. Movement is the third and last in that sequence. The reasons why Harriott abandoned his experiments are well-documented in Alan Robertson’s biography and on the All About Jazz website.
Movement, however, is perhaps the best representation of a Joe Harriott Quintet gig, mixing as it does straightahead tracks with his free-form work. British pianist Brian Dee once told me that Harriott’s way of mixing sets in this way did not help his cause leaving audiences puzzled and unsure about how they should respond. Indeed, one gets intimations of this hearing this record. And yet, that does not ultimately detract from it. In fact, it allows the listener to draw their conclusions and more than that see how the experimental stuff is to some degree dependent on the more bop-oriented music.
So, it opens with the easy swing of “Morning Blue” with Harriott’s alto warm, sunny and optimistic and Shake Keane’s flugelhorn light as air. Beams follows echoing Harriott’s two previous records in several ways. Firstly, it is immediately apparent that this is very much a group music. The horns, in particular, seem mutually dependent with Harriott and Keane interlocking and playing off each other. The music is held in place by Coleridge Goode’s walking bass, with piano and even drums having greater licence within the rhythm section. Secondly, one couldn’t really describe this music as modal. Rather it is developed from melodic fragments and motifs. “Count Twelve” is pure bebop rooted in the blues with some simply lovely flugelhorn from Keane and delightful piano from Pat Smythe. The relationship between Goode and drummer and Bobby Orr is almost symbiotic, while Harriott’s own solo is wild and free-flowing.
Michael Garrick’s quirky “Face in the Crowd” follows. Originally, it accompanied Jeremy Robson’s poem of the same name on Poetry & Jazz – Record Two (1967 – Dutton-Vocalion 2CDSML 8416) and on which Harriott played as part of Garrick’s quintet. It’s a fine, angular performance that sits well with Harriott’s own more abstract writing. “Revival” is one of the saxophonist’s most Caribbean-inflected tunes and is perhaps the record’s highlight, whilst Garrick’s “Blues on Blues” reveals perfectly how very, very good this group really was.
The album concludes with three tracks, “Spaces”, which was arguably the most abstract piece Harriott ever recorded, the fine, if mainstream bop “Spiritual Blues” with some great bowed bass from Goode and excellent drums from Bobby Orr and the album’s title track. Movement has an intensity not found in all of Harriott’s free form work. It’s a stunning group tour de force, again building from comparatively simple melodic materials into something that is dark, brooding and even slightly unsettling. Of the two record’s in this package, Movement is the one that is absolutely essential. Were it not for these earlier achievements, High Spirits might come more highly recommended. It is of a much lighter weight but it does have its share of pleasures. I doubt Harriott could ever have made a bad record and by other people’s standards, this would be top flight.
The shortcoming of High Spirits lies in the sense that these show tunes, from the musical based on Noel Coward’s play Blithe Spirit, are really fairly average West End/Broadway fare. “You’d Better Love Me” is a case in point. It really doesn’t deserve Pat Smythe’s elegantly poised solo. Smythe did the arrangements here and he made a more than adequate fist of the task. In fact, Smythe has the album’s finest moment in his lovely, limpid performance on “Forever and a Day”. The band’s playing is lively and authoritative and Shake Keane is on wonderful form throughout but particularly so on “If I Gave You”. There’s also a certain poignancy to the way Harriott plays throughout the record, almost as if somehow he can compensate for the lack of depth to the original tunes. In any other context, his solos on “I Know Your Heart” and “Was She Prettier Than I?” would count as prime Harriott. Perhaps, I’m being a little ungenerous. You certainly won’t regret having this record in your collection and if you know anything of Joe Harriott, you will want this pairing for Movement. Looked at that way and High Spirits is a bonus.
Tracks: Movement: Morning Blue; Beams; Count Twelve; Face in the Crowd; Revival; Blues on Blues; Spaces; Spiritual Blues; Movement.
Personnel: Joe Harriott (as), Shake Keane (tp, flhn), Pat Smythe (p), Coleridge Goode (b), Bobby Orr (d). Rec. 1963.
High Spirits: Home Sweet Heaven; If I Gave You; Go Into Your Trance; You’d Better Love Me; I Know Your Heart; Was She Prettier Than I?; Forever and a Day; Something Tells Me.
Personnel: Joe Harriott (as), Shake Keane (tp, flhn), Pat Smythe (p), Coleridge Goode (b), Bobby Orr (d). Rec. September 1964.